To Federation and a new century


The last 50 years of the 19th century evidenced the rapid commercial expansion of Lismore and its development into the regional centre for the far north coast area of NSW. The population grew unabated from a mere 93 in 1871 to 4542 by the year 1901, the year of Australian Federation.

This frontier period of the town’s development was heralded by some enterprising cedar getters who established stores in the front part of their huts to provide the basic necessities for the other sawyers, particularly those working around Bald Hill (now Bexhill). These basic provisions included sugar, flour and tea, and some clothing, which was shipped from Sydney on the return leg of the timber trade.

With the passing in 1861 of the Robertson Land Act, much of the land around Lismore was opened up for free selection. The same land that was unsuitable for running cattle because of the dense forest (the Big Scrub) was now eagerly taken up by free settlers who undertook subsistence farming. Agriculture included sugar, maize, corn and the pasturing of the first dairy cattle.

The original selection, survey and naming of many of the streets which now form the central business district of Lismore was undertaken by licensed government surveyor Peppercorne. With ocean-going ships being able to navigate as far as the confluence of Leycester and Wilsons Creeks, Lismore became the natural crossroads for transportation in the region. By 1875 the first bank had been established, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, and was followed in May the next year by the opening of the first newspaper. The Northern Star and Richmond and Tweed River Advocate was first published by William Kelleway and survives today as The Northern Star.

In 1879 Lismore was incorporated as a municipality with James Stocks, a chemist, elected as first Mayor and William James Harman appointed as Town Clerk. Council set about developing the basic infrastructure needed to support its growing population, including drainage and the provision of kerosene lamps on street posts. By 1879 there were at least three schools in Lismore: the public school, a commercial school for boys and a day school for young ladies. In 1880 the government wharf was built just south of Leycester Creek on the southern bank of the Wilsons River. By the next year the population had increased tenfold.

1883 saw the opening of the Lismore Hospital and the expansion of other government services including police, mail and land administration along with regular church services and the ever-growing commercial enterprises. A devastating fire of 1883 saw many of the pioneer businesses within the central town area destroyed, including the properties of James Stocks, Glasgow, Drew, Trattens and others as well as two private residences.

Much fanfare accompanied the second opening of Fawcetts Bridge in 1884. A disappointing turnout for the first opening led Council to hold a second opening and the declaration of a public holiday to fully commemorate the event. That year also saw the opening of the Winsome Hotel just north of the bridge. The following year, the bridge over Leycester Creek (Colemans Bridge) was completed and finally north, south and east Lismore were connected. The government-run punt, which previously supplied a somewhat irregular service, was discontinued. This decade also saw the opening of the first Council Chambers in 1887 and the introduction by the Council in 1888 of gas lamps to replace the existing kerosene street lighting.

By 1891 Lismore had a population of 2925, with much of its economy based on the flourishing dairy industry and the expanding of dairy cooperatives throughout the region. The district was also ravaged by numerous floods and in the last half of the decade was caught in the jaws of drought, which did not break until the second year of the new century. In 1894 the railway was extended to the Tweed, but still no connection had been built to the main Sydney line passing through Tenterfield some 160Km to the west of Lismore. By the end of the 19th century Lismore boasted a population of over 4500, a new post office (completed in 1898), a proud involvement in the Boer War in Southern Africa and an overwhelming vote for Federation and the formation of the new Commonwealth of Australia.

A new century

At the beginning of the 20th century, river navigation was still the dominant form of transportation in Lismore with the blue and black funnels of the Northern Rivers Steamship Company dominating trade on the Richmond River and its northern arm (the Wilsons River).

Whilst the railway was operational, few people used this service since it still required a trek of some 130km from Casino to Tenterfield to join the main Sydney line. However, both rail and shipping were soon to be seriously challenged by the new internal combustion engine and motorised road transportation.

In December 1902 the Lismore branch of the central creamery was opened and in January of the following year it was “sold” to form the basis for the new North Coast Co-Operative which was later to become the main office of Norco Ltd. Along with the new branch creamery at The Channon, the Lismore region became the centre for dairy production from the surrounding farms and the richest dairy district in Australia.

1907 saw the building of the new School of Arts which became the centre for cultural events within Lismore. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1932. The initial Lismore Musical Festival was organised in 1908. This first festival was so popular that there was no hall big enough to cater for the expected number of attendees. Marquees were erected in the Lismore Sportsground (later named Oakes Oval).

By the end of the first decade of the 20th century churches had been built for Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist services. The increased wealth generated by the dairy industry within the region meant people were becoming more mobile and could start to afford new motorised cars sold by Trevan Motors. Trevan also sold the first motor bus, which commenced operations between Lismore and Casino. These new forms of road transport not only began to replace the horse and buggy but started to challenge the river trade, particularly the cream boats. In 1912 a plague of water hyacinth imported from India made the Richmond and Wilsons Rivers unnavigable, particularly for the smaller cream boats. It was some years before this problem was eradicated by an unusual influx of salt water, but by then some dairy farmers were starting to transport their produce by road.

In 1914 the band rotunda was built in Spinks Park in central Lismore and the village of Dunoon got its own branch butter factory. This year also heralded the beginnings of World War I and another significant period of drought.